KokkieH Reviews The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Author photograph by Rob Wilkins of Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett
Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett
Photograph by Rob Wilkins

Terry Pratchett conceived the central idea of the novel already in the early eighties in his short story The High Meggas, published for the first time last year in A Blink of the Screen, a collection of Pratchett’s shorter fiction.  The success of the first Discworld novel caused him to put the story aside and he only returned to it a few years ago, when he joined forces with Stephen Baxter.

I haven’t read anything by Baxter, but I could spot Pratchett’s style almost immediately.  Similar to his Discworld novels, The Long Earth is not so much made up of chapters (even though the novel has numbered chapters), as scenes that at first seem to be tossed in there rather haphazardly.  If you’ve never read anything by him before it can be jarring at first as you struggle to figure out what the story actually is, but after a while you get used to it and everything makes sense.

The characters come across as a little flat.  The focus is much more on stepping and its effect on humanity than on the characters and we don’t even see the main character, Joshua, from all sides.  However, if you’re used to Sir Terry’s style that’s also not surprising as he tends to let his characters grow over the course of several novels (and there’s at least three more novels planned in this series).

What really impressed me about this novel is the world-building.  There are Earths that are almost indistinguishable from ours (save for no humans and consequently no widespread destruction of the environment), Earths experiencing ice ages, Earths that are mostly desert.  There’s one where North America is one vast inland sea, one where the moon never formed and one Earth that was completely destroyed by an asteroid that hit somewhere in the distant past.

On some Earths life never evolved while on others there are creatures unlike any most of us would be able to imagine.  In particular there are also two species of humanoids with at least some measure of intelligence as well as some other unusual abilities, called elves and trolls.  My guess is that this was something Baxter specifically added to the mix, as much of his writing has been based on evolutionary biology and animal behavior.

I wouldn’t call this novel a page turner.  Rather, it reads almost like a documentary, as if it is reporting on events as they unfold while giving us some insight into the thoughts and emotions of the characters.  This unfortunately makes it easy to put down, but it was good enough that I kept picking it back up again.  It’s an easy read that I would even recommend to someone who had never read Sci-Fi before.

While it’s not one of the best books by Pratchett that I have read, I’m eagerly anticipating the paperback release (my budget doesn’t allow for first edition hardcovers and I’m still resisting ebooks) of the sequel, The Long War, which came out earlier this year, especially as The Long Earth ended on one heck of a cliffhanger.  In the meantime I want to try and get my hands on one of Baxter’s books.  From the little I’ve read up on him I think it would be worthwhile.

10 thoughts on “KokkieH Reviews The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

  1. Just went and bought this; I love stories with novel concepts, and this one sounds about as novel as they come. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve read a Pratchett novel – too much of a while, even.

    Also, I really want to read Men at Arms (and by extension, Guards! Guards!) now, too. I came across this review after reading that one, so…yeah 😀


    1. The Long Earth is a bit different from his usual stuff, but the idea, as you say, is unique. The third one in this series came out a couple of months ago, but I’m still waiting for the paperback edition of the second one to become affordable 😀

      You really should read the Sam Vimes novels in order. It’s amazing to see how this character changes over time. Not all of them are equally good, but all of them have very good bits in them.


  2. I am a long-time fan of Stephen Baxter and although I have to agree with Stephen Wright above, I thoroughly enjoy Baxter’s stories. If only he offered a ray of hope at the end. He did try in Titan, (which I thought was an amazing experience btw) but most of his works invariably leave me gloomy, wondering ‘where’s the hope?’ Along with Titan, I loved Evolution. Space and Time were forgettable gloom-inducing rehashes of each other, so avoid them unless you are going for the full Baxter set. I think, if Pratchett has tempered Baxter somewhat, I may try The Long Earth.


    1. At this stage I just want to sample a couple of his novels to get a feel for his work. If I then like him I will of course have to get the complete set, which would mean another bookshelf which will have to go in front of a window as we’re out of wall space…

      I wouldn’t call The Long Earth gloomy, but it’s definitely not rainbows and unicorns. In fact, I’d say it distinctly leans over to the dark side, but then the story’s not finished yet.


      1. The book that got me following Baxter was The Time Ships – an authorised sequel to H G Wells’ The Time Machine. Loved it. Good place to start and it doesn’t leave you depressed. Evolution is interesting if a slightly disjointed. It’s a series of stories set in different points in Earth’s history and (fictionally) documents life of the first mammal, several evolutions of human and ends (I think) 500 million years in the future.
        Third recommendation is The Light of Other Days, a collaboration with Arthur C Clarke and a reworking of Bob Shaw’s Other Days, Other Eyes. Not gloomy at all IMHO.


      2. Thanks. He’s apparently another author no bookshop in SA has ever heard about (joining the ranks of Jim Butcher, John Green and Neil Gaiman), so once my budget allows it’s off to Amazon I go 😉


  3. I’ve got this book. It;’s been sitting in the “read this now” pile since Christmas! Must get on to it. I always enjoy Pratchett’s stuff – for me, though, Baxter’s work is inevitably depressing. Realistic in every sense, but depressing, which I guess is why I haven’t tackled it yet.


    1. Now that you mention it, the novel does have a very healthy dose of realism (as far as you can have that in SF) which is not normal fare as far as Pratchett is concerned. I won’t necessarily use “depressing”, but it is rather subdued and does touch on issues like extinction, overpopulation, exploitation of resources and political issues which can become depressing. I think it’s fair to say (not having sampled pure Baxter, of course) that the two authors temper each other in this collaboration.

      Is there a particular Baxter novel you would recommend? I really want to try at least one.


      1. I quite enjoyed ‘Voyage’, an alternate history scenario about a NASA Mars mission circa 1975 using Apollo hardware. Pretty much what they were intending had the money not run out. “Anti-Ice” is a wonderful steampunk romp – a great pastiche of nineteenth century Verne-style SF. I’d avoid “Titan”, which – for me at least – didn’t deliver the emotional journey I’d look for in a novel. Far too depressing.


      2. Thanks. I’ll see if I can find one of those two. Recently my faith in South African book retailers have taken a knock – they simply haven’t heard of so many authors who are highly popular in the US and Europe. Even the online retailers don’t stock them. But through Amazon the postage is murder (and I stubbornly refuse to buy ebooks – free Kindle classics are okay, but I feel guilty about every one I download).


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